Imagine the crowd on the edge of their seats, the air thick with tension, as the player runs with the ball, dribbles past one player, then another, into the box, the crowd now on their feet as he dodges flailing legs, he can’t possibly miss, he shoots… and the ball veers off to the right, miles away from the goal. This is how I spend many of my Saturday afternoons, watching my team suffering a heavy defeat or winning a match (about once a season).
I support Partick Thistle. This may come as a surprise to you as football fans from Glasgow are automatically either Rangers or Celtic supporters. I do rather enjoy the confused looks on people’s faces when I can proudly state that I am a fan of neither Rangers nor Celtic but am in fact a member of the Red and Yellow Army.
To be honest with you, I’m not certain what inspired me to go to a football match in the first place. However, I do recall my Mum not being overly thrilled at the prospect of me attending a match as “the language is completely inappropriate for a child to be hearing.” So, to get around this, eight-year-old me attended her first Thistle game armed with pink Minnie Mouse earmuffs as well as a red and yellow chequered flag and an equally loud matching scarf. What a sight I must have been.
Afterwards I enjoyed myself so much that I declared to my Dad I wanted to go again with him next week, much to Mum’s dismay. Perhaps it was the pie I devoured at half-time that made me want to go again, with its soft meat-filled middle surrounded by crispy yet fluffy crust and… sorry, I got distracted there. Or maybe it was simply the atmosphere of the crowd, everyone singing and cheering on the players, there for the same purpose: to support their team.
This atmosphere, which is perhaps my favourite part of football, is especially palpable at Firhill because with a relatively small crowd of around 3000 people attending each week, you are forever bumping into people you know in the street who are immediately recognisable from matches. I would describe it as having a rather large extended family that you only see every so often at special occasions.
Since I started attending games at Firhill and became a season ticket holder, I have always sat in the same seat, and this has been a great experience as I have met and talked to all the people who have suffered through Thistle’s terrible performances like I have. Although the crowd has a much higher proportion of men to women, I have never felt excluded from any conversation that is taking place whether it is about football or any other topic. At my first game my Dad introduced me to all his friends who helped me to feel very welcome in the predominantly male environment.
However, always sitting in the same seats can have its downsides. There are many people round about us who also never change seats and to be honest with you, I wish they would. Three rows up from us, there is one guy who feels the need to very loudly share his opinion on every decision in the game by the referee like no one else can see what is going on. Or the man who sits at least a whole block over but because of his voice that sounds like a foghorn, feels like he is sitting right beside you. But for the most part, you exchange a smile with the majority of people who surround you.
It’s ironic that you experience so many different emotions with complete strangers but never actually learn their names as they are just faces in the crowd. While Firhill might not be the plushest of stadiums and the amount of space between rows is not the best, there is no underlying current of sectarianism that is prevalent at Parkhead and Ibrox. While chants at these clubs are dominated by centuries-long bigotry, Partick Thistle among other clubs in Glasgow have been a beacon for those who are not interested in these matters which have no place in football and indeed society.
As well as being a long-suffering Thistle fan, I also attend Scotland matches and the combination of supporting these two clubs might be described by some as being ‘the toughest shift in world football.’ Supporters of successful clubs talk about being there through thick and thin but in my football experience it is more accurate to describe it as thin and thinner. Hampden has quite an emotional pull in our family as this is where my Dad watched many matches with his Dad and Grandpa so to be able to recreate this with my Dad means a lot to me.
Our experience of watching football together has definitely strengthened my relationship with my Dad. Many girls might struggle to find a suitable activity to do with their Dads and I know my Dad would not thank me if I took him to the shops so the fact that we are able to spend this time together means a lot to me.
In some ways football is a metaphor for life especially when you support a club and country with limited success. This may seem a bit over-dramatic but in many respects is true. It has taught me to savour the moments of ‘glory’ whilst not dwelling on disappointing times which heavily outweigh the former. Ultimately it’s about developing a sense of perspective. After all it’s not a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that.
Orla is currently a student at Fernhill School in Glasgow and has just completed her fifth year studies. She is an avid supporter of both Partick Thistle and the national team.